By Sister Bunny Flick, 2014
It’s amazing to look over the path of grace in my life and tie it into Madeleine Sophie’s vision of the Society today. My parents were New Yorkers and most of my extended family were born in “The City” as we say, including older sister and me. Right after they married, my parents moved to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, where they bought a home on a cove on Long Island Sound. They both loved their gardens, dogs and beautiful trees. My parent’s home was always their sanctuary – a place of contentment and privacy. This is where I lived my first ten years, playing with my many cousins. It was magical for me. This is where my soul still finds its home and where I fell in love with bird watching, tramping around the wetlands, my favorite hobby to this day.
In 5th grade, my parents decided to send my sister and me to the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Greenwich. Once there, I started to come alive intellectually. It was also my first real introduction to religious reality, and I thrived. But after that year, my father took a job in Chicago. My parents were so pleased with Sacred Heart, they deliberately bought a home near the Convent in Lake Forest. It was a happy fit for me, and I still have friends from those school days. My sister, meanwhile, attended Barat College, also operated by the Society of the Sacred Heart.
This all came to an end at the beginning of junior year when my dad was transferred to Jacksonville, Florida. This also was the time my sister, Lois, decided to enter the Society. Suddenly my secure world seemed to be going down in flames. We all missed Lois terribly and had a rough adjustment. I attended a school influenced by the Quakers, and it was polar opposite to Sacred Heart: no competition allowed – no grades, no medals and ribbons, no sports, no awards, no liturgy. Each student was responsible for her own progress. These were dark days for me without my friends. Yet this place influenced me profoundly. The school was structured to help the students encounter issues of social conscience to which I had been oblivious. Martin Luther King, Jr. was marching in Alabama and coming to Tallahassee. I learned non-violence, which still remains of highest value to me. I was walking down a very different path from my familiar world.
My family returned to Chicago after my senior year and I decided to attend Barat College. There, wonderful religious influenced my life choices: Sisters Betty Boyter, Marguerite Green, Flavia Augustine, Mimi Burke, Lulu Martinez, et al. These great women were teachers who inspired my love for education. They role-modeled religious life, encouraged my vocation and influenced me to enter after my graduation.
It was at Barat that I first touched into the reality of Jesus as the heart of all life. It had always been nurtured by years of spirituality in our schools but ‘clicked’ when I joined a discussion group led by Lulu Martinez, RSCJ, which shattered my conventional shell of traditional thinking through the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. For once, there was a meaningful way to include my love of birds, trees and water in God’s loving providence.
I started my novitiate with the opening of Vatican II. Everything learned at Kenwood was gone within five years of my first vows: the habit, the structure of community life, the Office, convent living. I was teaching at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, Lake Forest, Illinois, during those days, and the turmoil of societal change penetrated the school as well. Meanwhile, I was influenced by a professor at Northwestern University, George Anderson, and was persuaded that we needed to change the curriculum from a total Western World perspective toward a more global view. It was very difficult, however, to find secondary school level materials to do so. As head of the Social Studies department, I tried to implement this change and failed miserably – implementing too quickly and too intensely. Instead, parental pushback and floundering students resulted. I learned a lot about the process of change and my own arrogance. This didn’t mean I let go of this vision, but learned to modify it.
Right after my profession in 1969, I started an administration degree in school curriculum at the Union Institute. This was a Ph.D. “university without walls” where the student designed their own program of studies. I was terribly interested in the basic idea of how we, as a worldwide system of schools, could universally have an interlocking curriculum. Using an anthropological participant observer method, I studied five Sacred Heart Secondary Schools (Barcelona, Mumbai, Tokyo, Lima and New York), tracking a major problem they were each trying to solve. This was an extraordinary project in that I was introduced to many non-western cultures and how they worked together.
Simultaneously, I witnessed the collapse of our traditional schools’ curricula as the Vatican II changes took place. It was like watching the embers of a great system in radical disintegration. Our sisters were moving out of their exported French culture and discovering their own identities in a life-giving way. The rigid differences in the community were evaporating. This year opened my eyes and my mind. I saw extraordinary cultural treasures, some religious practices in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions experimentally being integrated into Christian modes, yet saw clearly that we were not ready to work together. So many of our schools were not free to change due to government laws.
At this time I was also recognizing the reality of crushing poverty and terrible societal inequities throughout the world. This was spiritually challenging and depressingly painful. Yet, it convinced me that my call was to work in my own country where so many of us denied these realities. “When we come before God with the needs of the world, then the healing love of God which touches us touches all those whom we bring before him with the same power.” (Henri Nouwen: Anchored in God through Prayer)
Eventually I took a position as Academic Dean at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Seattle and tried again to globalize, but this time through the faculty themselves. What a wonderful place – my Camelot school! The teachers were terrific and immediately saw their position on the Pacific Rim. This same faculty and the school advisory board also implemented the new Goals and Criteria when it came into being. At that time, I was on the School Committee with Sister Kit Collins when we began articulating these goals. My little contribution was Goal 5, which we had talked about in depth at our California Province Assembly. Forest Ridge was also the first school where I supervised the institution of the first board of trustees. The great transition of handing over our institutions to lay leadership was underway.
Probably the most influential people who nurtured me spiritually were the Jesuits at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. After leaving Forest Ridge, I was given permission to study post Vatican II Scripture, Theology and Morality. It was here that I fully rounded out my spiritual formation and integrated it with my love of teaching and academics. Two of my most influential teachers were Michael Buckley, SJ and Gustavo Gutierrez, OP. Through Elizabeth Johnson and Jon Sobrino, I finally found a Christology which integrated my social concerns with a liberation theology. Under their encouragement, I continued in the training of spiritual direction. This opened doors for teaching at the University of San Francisco and Creighton University in their spirituality masters programs. My students are adults from all over the globe. And how I have loved this experience! I teach in a Socratic method and always feel like I’ve died and gone to teacher’s heaven. It has been my best ministry beyond a doubt. Of course, this was only a summer program, so I continued my academic work in our high schools and thus maintained a two-tiered ministry for years.
Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton was my next stop after Berkeley. When I arrived, it was facing serious financial burdens due to the main building’s earthquake frailty. We had to close one wing of the boarding school which deeply affected our enrollment and “bottom line.” Gradually we came to the decision to close the boarding program and to go co-ed. Those first years at Sacred Heart Prep were deep trench work, putting in foundations for the future. Many faculty left because they didn’t want to teach adolescent boys. I can remember the sheer exhaustion one year of having 13 new faculty and staff to assimilate into the school’s philosophy and general workings.
My last school was Duchesne, Omaha. I asked permission to go there specifically because my sister, who had left the Society in the 70s, was terminally ill. She had been a creative leader in our Society and was part of the group that initiated the Stuart Conferences. She taught me to respect and to include our lay teachers as collaborators. In many ways, Omaha helped me to befriend death. It was there that my sister died, then I confronted my own cancer and possible death, but also had the bittersweet task of accompanying my beloved parents on their last journey as well. Duchesne would be my last ministry in one of our schools as I decided to leave secondary education and go full-time into retreat and spiritual direction at our Spiritual Ministry Center in San Diego.
Like St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, I have lived through revolutionary times both in society at large as well as in the Society of the Sacred Heart. I think Sophie would bless our efforts to transition and integrate our spirit into our schools. Certainly she loved education and believed in the need for women to be fully realized. Having been part of the coeducational endeavor at Atherton, I like to think she would want those young men to “like” girls, to believe in their equally legitimate rights in this world and to understand the link between women and poverty. She would deeply appreciate the schools’ efforts at justice education and push for diversity in the student body. Above all, she would praise our love and welcome for every child who enters through our doors. I suspect that she would do everything in her power to enable every faculty person to be spiritually formed, just as she did for each of her religious. Without this commitment, she knew the Society would collapse. The Busy Person’s Retreats are a first step in this direction.
And that is where I find myself today. My current ministry at our Spiritual Ministry Center is a haven for every kind of spiritually seeking person. I love its silence, its ecumenical welcome, its healing hospitality. So many people remark about its peaceful atmosphere, the sense of the Holy Spirit. Several on our staff have committed themselves to the Busy Person’s Retreat and hope to continue fostering the spiritual formation of our schools, our alumnae and associates. We are really reaching out in our City of San Diego to serve new communities of immigrants as they surge in numbers.
Looking back over my path of grace, I see a young person who started out totally embedded in the life of our Society and its institutions. Gradually, these boundaries cracked open – stretching out across the world within interdependent and complex cultures. There is a paradox here that joins my personal experience and reflection with others experiences in their search for love and justice. My passion now is our commitment to JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation) which goes full circle back to my childhood experiences in Old Greenwich.
This brief lifetime continues to be my opportunity to receive love, deepen love, and give love. One of the most touching and privileged experiences I’ve recently had was being part of the team of people who restructured our healthcare. Some of my good friends and peers were becoming ill and even dying. Like Jesus, we are on a journey, living to bear fruit through our leaving. No one taught me that more clearly than our holy sisters at Kenwood when we closed and moved them one by one to Teresian House. One day, I had to say farewell to Sister Mary Ranney. She lovingly looked me in the eyes and said, “Things end, Bunny …”